MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- This wasn't supposed to be a deep team that
Tubby Smith inherited at Minnesota.
With last season's leading scorer Lawrence McKenzie held to two
free throws, the Gophers got 47 points from their bench and started
Smith's first season with a complete, inspired game.
Dan Coleman scored 16 points in 20 minutes, including two
first-half dunks that fired up the Minnesota crowd in an 84-52
victory on Saturday.
There were 11,529 fans counted for this one, a larger turnout
than all but three of last season's home games. The Gophers have
the same guys who lost a school-record 22 games in 2006-07, but
Smith has re-energized the program since he was hired in March.
"He's put confidence and faith in a lot of guys," McKenzie
said. "It really seems like we're catching on real quick."
Sophomore reserve Damian Johnson contributed a career-high 12
points and four blocks for Minnesota, which forced 25 turnovers by
the Black Knights -- who were led by nine points from John Moonshower. Freshmen Blake Hoffarber and Al Nolen played well off
the bench, as did backup big man Jonathan Williams.
"That's why we're playing guys, to give 'em that experience
now, so when there is a crunch time they can step up and perform,"
After leaving Kentucky to take the job here, Smith has been
embraced -- though he's kept a much lower profile than new football
coach Tim Brewster -- by fans eager for better days at "The Barn."
The Gophers went to the NCAA Tournament once in Dan Monson's
eight seasons, following the academic fraud scandal that tarnished
the 1997 Final Four appearance and forced the firing of coach Clem
Smith, sitting on a stool on the edge of Williams Arena's famous
raised floor, has Minnesota playing a style that should excite the
masses -- even if significant improvement in the standings doesn't
McKenzie, who averaged more than 12 shots per game last season,
missed all five of his field goals. He led the aggressive
on-the-ball defense, however, harassing Jarell Brown and the others in the
Between Gophers baskets in the first half, McKenzie hounded
Cleveland Richard and bumped him several times -- creating a
turnover by keeping Richard from crossing halfcourt in 10 seconds.
Defense is where Smith's teams have typically made their mark.
"Get steals, get stops, get deflections. It's going to help us
get some easy buckets," Johnson said.
They're pushing the ball up the court when they can and
stressing faster movement on offense, too, which has helped
rejuvenate the players who endured the hit-bottom point when Monson
was fired nearly one year ago.
"All us old guys that were here last year, we're hungry,"
The Black Knights brought 13 letterwinners back from a squad
that went 15-16, including Brown -- a senior who was the third-leading
scorer in the Patriot League last season. Those 15 victories were
the most by Army since the 1984-85 team went 16-13.
Brown was wide open and swished a 3-pointer for the game's first
points, and the Black Knights slipped past Minnesota's full-court
press a couple of times for easy baskets that made Smith scowl.
The Gophers, though, were in control of the last 30 minutes
after a jumper by Brown cut the lead to 14-11 near the midpoint of
the first half.
Coleman started the second half with a 3-pointer, and Minnesota
built a lead as big as 36 points -- playing with far more energy
than in the past. Army went nearly 10 minutes without scoring,
until Curtis Koszuta made the first of two free throws with 7:53
remaining in the game.
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